ONE MUMS JOURNEY INTO THE WORLD OF OCR
BY SUSAN JARMAN
“…These are the best female obstacle racers in the UK today!”…a tiny part of the spiel – laid on by race director and UK Obstacle Course Race Association chairman Mark Leinster just prior to starting the elite female wave of the 2nd ever UK OCR Championship. I don’t remember anything else he said – apart from the warning not to touch any suspicious-looking items we may find on the ground along the way as the site, Pippingford Park in East Sussex, is also a military training ground.
23 of us “elite” racers were huddled in the starting pen waiting for the off on that very cold November morning and as I looked around it was hard to believe that I – a 39-year old mum of 3 small children with no previous athletic experience – had earned a place to stand amongst such paragons of athletic awesomeness! A blast of the siren and it was too late to dwell on the absurdity of the situation – we were off!
My journey to the start line had begun 2 years earlier following the birth of my 3rd baby. I was 37 and earlier that year had signed up to take part in my first ever obstacle course race “Total Warrior” in the Lake District with a bunch of friends as my latest charity challenge. Previous challenges included completing the Great North Run in under 2 hours – which I only just achieved – and the London to Brighton cycle ride. Optimistically I had signed up to the “Super 10” event – 10k on the Saturday followed by 10miles on the Sunday. Total Warrior consists of about 30 obstacles such as crawling through the mud under barbed wire, jumping over fire, swimming across rivers, scaling large walls and the dreaded monkey bars. I am more Total Worrier than Total Warrior and thought it looked horrendous! A few weeks after I signed up I discovered I was pregnant – quite an extreme way to avoid taking part, I know! Luckily (!) for me the wonderful organisers of TW allowed me to defer my entry to the following year – so now I was faced with the prospect of taking part 8 months after having a baby! Having convinced my husband to also sign up I went along to support him and my friends whilst pregnant and saw first hand how gruelling, muddy, wet and cold the course is!
I needed help!
Fortunately for me help was nearer at hand than I realised – in the form of the inspirational Rhian Martin, an ex GB elite triathlete and current 5th in Europe in Otillo (swimrun) racing plus mum of 2 young children, her eldest of which happened to be in the same class as my eldest! Following an assessment of my frankly pitiful fitness levels Rhian designed an 8-week training plan for me leading up to the event.
In the intervening months before starting the plan, however, I realised I needed to make a start in improving my fitness, not to mention my sugar – laden diet! How to do this whilst simultaneously looking after 3 young children including a new baby? Well it took a bit of creative thinking but whilst my eldest was at school and my 3 year old was at pre-school, I became a regular visitor to the local cricket pitch where I would plonk baby on a picnic blanket and attempt to sprint up and down. I attended Rhian’s circuit classes religiously every Saturday morning and even more crazily, in my sleep-deprived state, would creep out of the house at 5am to go for a run before everyone else woke up. I discovered some obstacle course specific training in a nearby town and spent a few Saturday mornings wading around in rivers and learning how to scale walls and climb up ropes plus I signed up to local running races each month to provide a bit of extra motivation and watched in disbelief as my race times started to dramatically improve cumulating in a 5th place at The Great Windsor Dash in July.
The following weekend was Total Warrior…and I smashed it! I raised a good amount for my charity – Demelza House Children’s Hospice – and finished 3rd female overall! My love affair with jumping into huge muddy puddles had only just begun!
As soon as my big challenge was over I started looking around for the next one. I heard about the UK OCR Championships which would take place at the end of the following year and thought I would give it a go. As I would be 39 by then I figured I wouldn’t do very well in my age group category of 35-39 but thought it would be good to enter with a view to smashing the 40-44 age group the following year. By now I was training full-on around the children and my two very part-time jobs and believe me it was tiring!
I was in a good routine though, running a few times per week at 5am plus Saturday circuits, weights and yoga at home whenever I could fit it in and of course regularly embarrassing my children in the playpark by zooming up and down on the monkey bars! I had also joined my local running club, Chiltern Harriers AC, and whilst I found their sessions hard, there’s no doubt my running improved further!
OCR races are expensive and so I didn’t enter very many but over the course of the next year I tackled such excitingly-named events as “Adrenaline Rush”, “Tough Mudder” and “Judgement Day”. Each race has its own challenges. Tough Mudder, for example, is geared towards teams and it’s nigh on impossible to complete some of the obstacles as an individual. As with every race, however, you are never left on your own for long! One of the best things about obstacle course racing is that other runners – and of course the wonderful marshals – will always try to help you both physically and psychologically! One Tough Mudder “obstacle” is to carry a team mate a few hundred metres. I didn’t have a team but ran into 3 strapping young men at this point and surprised all of us by piggy-backing one of them all the way!
In the May I travelled up to Edinburgh to stay with a friend and take part in “Bing Blazer”, a qualifying event for the UK Championship. The qualification criteria were twofold: finish top 10 in your gender and age-group and complete 4 specific obstacles, collecting a wristband from the marshal as you go.
If there are less than 10 people in your age group then you must finish in the top half to qualify e.g. top 3 out of 6. If you finish in the top 3 out of your age group or top 3 overall then you qualify for the coveted elite “wave 1”.
I had no idea how many people would be in my category was very nervous beforehand. Having travelled all that way and left my family behind for a long weekend I really didn’t want to come away empty-handed as it were. To my utter surprise I finished 2nd female overall on the 20km course and managed to conquer the dreaded monkey bars several times over to qualify into the elite wave of the UK Champs!
5 months of hard training (thanks again to Rhian for her plans and advice), various injuries and numerous sports massages later and there I was, on the start line of the Champs and even more importantly for me, having raised a significant amount for Demelza House.
The race itself was very hard and the freezing conditions didn’t help! Quite a lot of people succumbed to hypothermia – swimming through a deep lake was compulsory – but luckily I did finish in one piece, thanks largely to my thermal, waterproof wetsuit top. I conquered 27 out of the 31 fiendish obstacles (with delightful names such as Reapers Revenge and Legends Leap) but as only a handful of men and sadly no women managed all of the obstacles I feel I did myself proud and well and truly deserved my finishers medal!
What’s next for me? Well there’s no UK Championship this year but it will be back in 2018…and so, I’m sure, will!!
With thanks to Rhian Martin of www.Rhianmartinfitness.com for her training plans, nutritional advice and local circuit classes
Laura Merchant (www.Tiptoppilates.co.uk) for her sports massages
The Drummond Clinic (www.drummondclinic.co.uk) and Carol Dickinson (www.physiotherapyatamersham.co.uk) for physiotherapy
The Wild Forest Gym (https://wildforestgym.wordpress.com) and Immortal Fitness (www.immortalfitness.co.uk) for specific OCR training and to Chiltern Harriers AC (www.chilternharriers.weebly.com) for being a brilliantly supportive running club!